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Which co-parent controls major decisions about a child’s life?

On Behalf of | Jun 27, 2024 | Divorce |

When co-parents disagree about what is best for their child, navigating the rules surrounding their parental rights can be challenging. 

In New Hampshire, the law aims to balance the rights and responsibilities of each parent while always keeping the best interests of the child in mind. To that end, a parent’s decision-making responsibility and residential responsibility are two different things. Here is what that means.

What is a parent’s decision-making responsibility?

Decision-making responsibility refers to a parent’s authority to make significant decisions about the child’s welfare, such as:

  • Education: Which school the child will attend and what programs they will be in
  • Health care: What medical treatments the child will have and which doctors they will see
  • Recreational and extracurricular activities

Absent evidence to the contrary, the court assumes that giving a child’s parents joint decision-making responsibility is in a child’s best interests. That keeps both parents actively involved in the child’s development and day-to-day life.

What is residential responsibility regarding a minor child?

Residential responsibility refers to each parent’s responsibility to provide a home for their child and refers to how much parenting time each party has. Shared residential responsibility means parenting time is generally divided more or less equally between the parents. There are certain circumstances when one parent may have the child most of the time if, for instance, one parent’s employment requires the parent to leave the home before the child goes to school or daycare, or travel is required. There are times when one parent may not want shared parenting time and the responsibilities that accompany that time.

How can the division of parental rights create conflicts?

Conflicts usually arise when one co-parent’s goals diverge from the other’s. For example, one co-parent may think it is wise to move a child to an online school, while the other parent feels that the child should remain in a brick-and-mortar school. When decision-making responsibility is jointly shared, neither parent can make unilateral changes. Unless the parents can agree, the parent advocating for the change would have to convince the court that it is in the child’s best interests to do so.

Things can be even more complicated concerning residential responsibility. A parent cannot relocate outside of the child’s current school district or further away from the other parent – especially out of state – without the agreement of the other parent. The burden is always on the relocating parent to justify to the court how the move meets a legitimate purpose and is reasonable in light of the stated purpose.

It can be difficult to understand the limits of your parenting authority when you and your co-parent are no longer together. Legal guidance can help you assert yourself and protect your precious parent-child relationship.


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